I’ve been studying abroad in Grenoble, France for the past six months and I’ve fallen in love… with the city!
Grenoble is located in the Isère Valley of the French Alps and is a medium-sized city with a student population of around 60,000, lending to its young city vibe. It’s one of the top business centers of France, being the headquarters for multiple international companies. It’s also friendly to foreigners without being too touristy. Grenoble’s location and weather makes it ideal for a visit any time of year.
So, let me tell you my love story and seven reasons why you’ll fall in love with Grenoble too…
1. Convenient Location
Grenoble may be in the Alps, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have any issues getting there.
- Train: Grenoble is only three hours away from Paris, four hours from Milan, and just two hours away from Geneva.
- Plane: Grenoble’s airport has cheap flights to Dublin and London.
- Car/Bus: Grenoble is easy to get to by car or bus as there are major autoroutes (aka highways) that run around the city limits.
Within the city limits, there’s a tram and bus network, as well as a cheap bike rental agency. Grenoble is the flattest city in France and has dedicated bike paths, making biking an easy and safe option.
2. History, History, and More history
Grenoble’s history stretches back over 2,000 years!
Some of the first references to Grenoble were of the small Gallic village of Cularo around 43 BCE. Cularo was located in a valley in the mountains where the Drac River and Isère River met. The Romans conquered the village, built great walls around it, and renamed it Gratinopolis after Emperor Gratin.
After the collapse of the Roman empire and being controlled by a few kingdoms, the growing city became part of the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century as the capital of the Dauphiné region. When the Dauphiné region was sold to France in the 14th century, Grenoble became part of one of the most important provinces of France.
Due to its location, Grenoble played an important role in both World Wars.
During World War I, hydroelectric power was developed on a large scale, several industries contributed to the war effort, and chemical factories were built along the outskirts of town.
During World War II, Nazi invasion forces were stopped near the city in 1940, though it later became a site of Italian and Nazi occupation. During the German occupation, members of the Resistance blew up artillery, destroyed an arsenal, and in general wreaked havoc on the German troops. The University of Grenoble even stepped in, creating false documents.
Grenoble was host to the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.
Greoble’s rich history is apparent in the countless museums within the city… most with free admission. You can visit archaeological sites leading back centuries, the home of famed composer and Grenoblois Hector Berlioz, or the Bastille (which also has the best view of the city). Grenoble has the first museum that France opened to modern artists, resulting in one of the finest collections of modern art in Europe.
3. City and Nature All Year Long
Grenoble’s strategic location in the alps gives it a nice blend of city and nature.
During the winter season, there are buses that take you straight to the ski resorts. You can even buy your bus ticket and entrance to the resort at the same time. Prices depend on whether it’s high or low season, full or half-day, and your age.
During the summer season, the high mountains lend themselves to prime hiking areas, and some of the ski resorts offer summer activities.
Being a university city, there’s plenty of night life. You can find anything from Irish pubs to bars and night clubs that stay open until 6AM. Drinks are generally inexpensive and some bartenders speak English, a great advantage for the travelers learning French.
4. Two Words: Student Pricing
Grenoble offers student prices everywhere! So if you’re a student, be sure to bring your student card to get incredible discounts.
You can find simple, everyday student discounts at restaurants and bars. They might offer a lunch menu just for students, price reductions, and “package deals” for food and drinks. Alcoholic beverages are usually priced lower in student bars than in other locations.
For long-term student travelers, the best discount is the tram and bus network pass, which can be bought on a monthly basis. The various supermarket chains also have fidelity programs with various rewards, and my program offers a 5% discount if I shop on Mondays.
The French train system, SNCF, also has a student discount card that’s good for a year and offers up to 60% off ticket prices.
If you don’t see a student discount, just ask… they might offer a discount that’s not advertised.
5. Timely Transportation within City and Suburbs
I’m a little bit of a control freak when it comes to my flights being on time, my lodging confirmed, maps I can trust, and reliable ways to get around.
So when I came to Grenoble, I was incredibly relieved to find that not only was the tram and bus network extensive throughout the city and suburbs, they almost always run on time.
The tram network has four lines (with a fifth in the works), and the bus network has 25 regular lines and 4-night lines as well as some other specialty buses.
While the schedules vary by line, most trams and buses run from 5AM to 1AM. During the academic year (September to June) and Monday through Friday they run more often. Schedules are posted at every tram and bus station.
The occasional delay will be posted on the electronic boards (located at all tram stops and some bus stops) as well as online. A mobile version of the network’s website lets you check the schedules when you’re on the go.
Tickets are 1.50€ each and valid for an hour with line changes and a return included. All stops are located outside in the fresh air, sans any long staircases smelling of unpleasant things like the Paris metro.
6. Friendly for Mobility-Reduced
Grenoble is one of the best, if not the best city in France for the mobility-reduced. Wheelchair users, the blind, parents with strollers, pregnant women and everyone in-between can benefit from the great care that the city put into their welfare.
The tram and bus network are level with platforms and have large sections specifically for the mobility-reduced and seniors. A list of buses that don’t have this benefit can be found online or in the legend of the network map.
Grenoble has large dedicated sidewalks and pedestrian zones, particularly downtown. You will find some cobbled sidewalks (this is France after all) but a majority of the sidewalks are paved.
7. Hello, Diversity
Some people might think of Europe as a collection of countries with homogeneous people. That’s not the case in Grenoble.
Grenoble has a thriving Italian community, and in recent years that’s enlarged to African, Muslim, Asian and Anglo communities as well. An Indian community is also developing.
Restaurants with cuisine from most corners of the world can be found, as well as specialty grocery stores and world food sections in supermarkets.
Grenoble has a lot of amazing qualities. Its small-town feel in the mountains makes living in a city one of the best living experiences I’ve ever had. I hope I’ve made you come to love Grenoble as much I have!